The Rich Young Man and the Heart of the Matter

June 30, 2016

One of my favorite stories from the life of Jesus involves a conversation with a rich young man. Here is how the story goes:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” I’m immediately drawn to this guy, because he reminds me a little bit of myself. He’s curious about eternal life, and he wants to know what Jesus has to say about it. He’s also very task-oriented. He wants to know what he has to do in order to get it.

“Why do you ask me about what is good? Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Jesus eventually gives him a straight answer. Keep the commandments, and you’ll be fine.

“Which ones?” he inquired. The young man isn’t satisfied—he wants specifics. Seems smart.

Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus lists off some of the 10 commandments, and then also adds ‘love your neighbor’ at the end, which Jesus said was the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40).

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” It’s interesting—this guy seemed to be a religious all-star. He was probably the kid who annoyed you in school because he was always good and never got in trouble. From a religious perspective, he had his stuff together. But something was still missing for him, even though he followed all the rules to the letter. He still lacked something, and he knew it.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me.” Here is where the story takes an unexpected turn. The young man had kept all the commandments, but Jesus goes deeper, to the heart of the matter. The young man valued his money more than God. In fact, perhaps money was the young man’s god.

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (Matthew 19:16-22). I feel sad at the end of this story. By getting to the heart of the matter, Jesus showed the young man clearly what he needed to do to follow Jesus, and get his priorities in order. Unfortunately, the young man wasn’t willing to do it, and he went away sad. It causes me to think about the things that I sometimes value more than God, whether it be money, relationships, or success. Jesus offers me himself, but sometimes I say no, and go away sad, just like the rich young man.

Discussion: Do you see yourself in this story as the rich young man? What things do you prioritize above your relationship with God? What might Jesus be targeting in your heart?


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